I circle the small school of fish slowly, my tail arching around them. They stay within the circle I create as I lead them like a shepherd through the waters.

What small amount of life that lives in these waters are looked after with my utmost care. I am all they have. They are all I have.

Not many outsiders visit us. The few that do only come to take away life. I understand the circle of life and know that they must eat as well, even if I wished they wouldn’t take my only friends. With a heavy heart, I control which part of the schools are to be caught and taken. As for myself, I eat what my subjects bring me, which is mostly sea vegetation.

I go by the name of Antarctica, after the land mass surrounded by the Southern Sea for which I have been given control. It is a blight to a princess, but I deserved much worse in my father’s eyes. I am the youngest princess with six other brothers and sisters. My three brothers were given reign over their choice of seas and most of my sisters were given husbands to help them rule over seas of my father’s choosing. I am the exception.

My father, King Nereus, rules over the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas, the heart of our kingdom, the United Seas. They are not the largest bodies of water, but they are the center of all relations and relatively safe waters. Nereus is the twentieth grandson of Triton, the first merman king to unite the seas. All of the king’s children are given control over the other seas. The one named ruler of the Aegean and Mediterranean is thereby named next king or queen of the entire ocean. Which child that will be after my father has yet to be named. At least I know that responsibility will not fall to me. I expect that my sister Esmerelda, princess of the Atlantic, and her husband will be given reign over my father’s waters when the time comes.

Currently, I am the only mermaid inhabiting the Southern waters. I have not seen another merperson since the time of my banishment here when I was twelve. I refused to marry the man of my father’s choosing, and so he sent me here, claiming that it was the only sea I would ever be fit to rule. My mother tried to change his mind, but in anger I stubbornly left before he could.

Seven years later, I have regretted my decision every day. Solitude may seem a pleasant idea to some at first, but I highly ward anyone away from this life if they are considering it. I had always been a solitary maiden myself, but nothing could prepare me for the dark, cold, and lonely sea of Antarctica. My only friends are the small fish and occasional brave penguins. The sea pups only come a few times a year and their presence is always missed.

A gentle emerald rockcod brings a sea shell in its mouth to me. I accept it gracefully and pocket it in the pouch of my tunic which was fashioned from the skin and scales of a great sea beast in the Pacific. My brother, Caspian, battled and defeated it just before my banishment. He had been named preemptively after the sea my father wished for him to govern, but when the time came my brother decided he would be the Prince of the Pacific Ocean. My father was naturally enraged, but he could not do anything about it, anything except withhold the right to inherit the kingdom from his firstborn and most skilled warrior.

I have always been Caspian’s favorite sister and he made the tunic for me, promising that it would scare away any creatures that deigned to wish harm upon me. I wish he had been right.

I often face the difficulties of roaming monsters. Not many end up in this shallow ocean, for they prefer the deep and dark depths of the larger waters, but some are chased my way by merpersons and other larger creatures. A few times I have wondered if any were sent by my father bent on being rid of his disappointing daughter.

I retire in the evening to my home: a sunken and abandoned ship, the S.S. Venus, 1893. I latch myself in the captain’s quarters, which is the only room with a window. The bed had long since been deteriorating, so I made myself a comfortable place to sleep with sponges and other plant life.

Stretching out my golden-brown tail, I sweep my similarly colored hair behind me and lay upon the bed. Light and dark cycles here are highly disproportionate and I know that the darkness will not last long tonight. The quicker I fall asleep, the quicker the sun will return and the least amount of discomfort I will have to endure. I loathe the darkness, and my father knew this. I believe that is why he sent me here, to a place that is dark more than half of the year.

I force myself to close my eyes and wait for sleep to overcome me.

➺ ➺ ➺

As if just thinking of something has the ability to procure it, I wake to the trembling sound of something smashing against my ship. The something is large and determined to infiltrate my refuge.

I rise swiftly and silently, moving to create a better view through the window above my head. Peering out, I catch a glimpse of the great beast’s tail. It is a giant sea serpent, mostly likely ten meters long. A baby, but it is still incredibly dangerous. The powerful tail could easily break my ribs if it had decent aim. If I found myself anywhere near the middle, the beast could confine and constrict me much faster than I would be able to swim out of its grip. And yet both of these fates are not nearly as dangerous as the head which houses an innumerable amount of razor sharp teeth. The serpent has been known to play with its prey, letting it bleed out slowly before finally swallowing it whole. In doing this, the blood would attract other creatures, which in turn would become other snacks for the serpent.

Somehow it catches my scent and decides that it wants a measly mermaid for its meal. A whole school of fish could pass by in front of it and it would let them swim by. Once it decides on its prey, it is nearly impossible to drive it away from the hunt. It will be a battle to the death.

Beginning to breathe heavily, I make quick work of gathering my supplies. I sling a strap around my middle and over my back, holstering a spare spear. My hands are equipped with a second long spear.

I take one deep breath, two, and three. On the third, I push down on the handle of the door, shooting out of the cabin at breakneck speed. I brace my wrists and bear the spear before me as I charge the serpent head on. It is an incredibly risky move, but I’m hoping it pays off with my advantage of surprise.

The spear lodges in the creature’s jaw. It writhes away, coiling in on itself, jerking me along with it until I find the moment to pull loose. Wasting no time, I jab again. However, the constant wriggling makes it difficult for me to stick the spear in the head. My spear continually jams itself in soft flesh, tiring my arms quickly as I work to pull it out and strike again. The water around me turns a murky red, making it difficult to see what I am defending myself from. I try not to think about all of the blood-thirsty beasts I may be attracting.

At last, my spear finds the serpent’s head. Its blood curdling shriek sounds just before it stills and begins to sink slowly to the bottom. With minimal strength, I pull the spear out for the last time. I strap it to my back and swim to gather a school of fish to put on duty for cleaning up the carcass. Any residue carried away by the currents could attract an untold amount of horrible creatures.

I return to my ship to clean both myself and my weapon. Unfortunately, I did not come out of the battle completely unscathed. The serpent had managed to lodge one of its outer teeth in my arm. Safely back in my cabin, I make quick work of extracting the tooth and covering the wound with seaweed.

Exhausted, I allow myself a small amount of time to catch my breath. Once my breath and pulse have returned to normal, I exit carefully to observe the progress with the carcass. It will most likely take until the end of the day, but the fish are efficient. The sedulous workers will labor diligently until the task is done.

I had not been expecting the serpent’s attack today, but nothing could prepare me for two surprises in one day. Overhead, a shadow moves across the top of the water: a ship.

I move quickly, making sure that I am deep enough as to not be seen until the fishing boat has passed. It is between twenty and thirty meters with a beige flag marked with dates and an anchor symbol, most likely the insignia of a company. The name painted on the side reads USS Andrea. The meaning of human words is often lost to me, but I learned enough as a child to learn how to recognize and sound the phonetics of most words. Courtesy of my sister, Esmerelda, I learned the importance of knowledge, whether human or otherwise. It is the one treasure that would last and could be shared. My original lessons may have been on the importance of gossip, but I learned to find my own deeper meaning in the lectures.

Not to mention, I had a strange fascination with the humans. This was most likely why my father and I often did not see eye to eye, but I could not help it. I would spend my days on the coast, avoiding humans, but studying them and their strange customs. I had even begun to fashion my hair like the girls I had seen on the boardwalks. Two braids on the front were pulled back, joined into one and laid on top of the rest of my hair flowing down my back to billow and rest upon my waist.

Many years ago, the humans and merpeople shared knowledge freely. We did not used to always live in fear of each other, but in wonder. Every day I wish we could return to that way of life, but it seems as if I am the only merperson with that mentality.

Once the Andrea passes, I follow at a safe distance. When they stop, I rise to the surface. Only the top of my head breaks the water. Men leave their boat to row across to the frozen land seemingly towards a flock of Emperor penguins. I watch with fascination for over an hour as they kneel and observe the colony. They take notes on what they observe and I discern that they are there to document the penguins. Perhaps these humans are here to gather knowledge as well.

I am so enthralled by the men on the shore that I hardly notice the commotion with the men still on board the boat. I first notice when the yelling begins. The harshly spoken words are indiscernible to my ears, but I understand from their tones that they are unhappy with each other. One man begins to corner the other until he is pressed up against the side of the boat. The more aggressive man seems to be worked up the most as he starts to place his hands on the other’s chest. I notice that the one being shoved is much younger than the aggressive man, who strikes the young man sharply on the cheek. The younger one seems to be attempting to escape, but the moment he pushes slightly to evade the man’s next slap, he is shoved hard and loses his footing. Shocked, I watch as the young man tumbles over the edge of the boat and plunges head first into the water.

I dart beneath the surface to see if he will swim back up, but he is still. No doubt the shock of the water’s temperature coupled with the impact on his head knocked him unconscious. I return to the surface to see what the man will do, but with no small amount of horror, I realize that he plans to do nothing. He leans over the edge, checking to see if the young man will return, but alas, he turns and strides away with the gait of a man not in a rush for help, but with a skip in his step, as if the greatest miracle has just befallen him.

Realizing that I have no choice, I dive down and swim straight for the sinking man. Grabbing him round by the waist, I haul him up to the surface. I slap him once, trying to revive him, but he remains still. There is only one other option for me to try. I plunge him back under the water and press my lips against his mouth, breathing into him. It is known as the kiss of life. Only a maiden can bestow it, and it is only used in the direst of circumstances.

His eyes flutter and he gulps down water. Thanks to my sacrifice, he will be able to survive at least ten more minutes under the water, but these are not the safest waters to test that limit in. I quickly lift his head above the surface and he gasps for air at the same time that he is spitting up water. I push him along to the side of his ship. He starts to yell, hoping to gain the attention of one his shipmates. At last, one looks over the edge and rushes to get help. A ladder is thrown over the edge and I shove the young man to it. His body quakes with the shock of the cold, but he manages to get a hold of the rung and pull himself up.

Once I’m certain that he is in good hands, I start to move away. It’s time to make my escape.

I turn to dive, but I don’t make it far. A blanket of weight falls on top of me and my fingers get caught in the mesh of it. I dive further, trying to circumvent the net as it tangles around me, but despite my downward efforts, I feel myself being hauled up and out of the water. For a few horrifying seconds, I dangle in the air, a tangled mess of fin, limbs, and net. They roll me onto the deck and I flail wildly as they extricate me from the snare.

Their grimy hands feel me all over, lingering especially on my tail. The moment I am free I fling myself towards the water, but a sailor drives his knife into the fin of my tail. I shriek and he pulls it out, but only because someone had pushed him away. It is the young man.

He is standing between me and the man with the knife. He yells something at me and I understand enough. Go!

Using my arms, I catch hold of the railing and throw myself over the edge. I try to swim, but my tail fights me. I flail wildly through the water. A murky red cloud eddies around me. I have to get out of here before I become the next meal of a roaming creature or before those evil men try to capture me once again.

I swim with my arms, something I haven’t had to do since I was a child with limited control of my tail. It is slow going, but I make it deep enough to evade the nets that are being thrown over the edge in an attempt to recapture me.

I am just about to make my way back to the Venus, but a rumble stops me. The eerie and deep tone resonates through the water, sending vibrations through me.

Only two creatures are capable of making that sound. One is a whale, and the other is the megalodon. Fortunately, the former is not attracted by blood. Unfortunately, the latter is. The eighteen meter long shark is an ancient beast. It is possible that it could be in the area searching for the serpent carcass. The last thing I need is for it to find me. I would not stand a chance even if I was uninjured. The only ones I have ever heard of being defeated took teams and legions of mermen to bring them down and many lives were lost in the process. One lone mermaid against a megalodon would only serve as a light snack for the beast.

Fear courses through me and I swim like a drunkard towards the surface and far away from the nets. I smash through ice and pull myself up onto a stationary berg. First I make sure that I am unseen by the ship and team of researchers before closing my eyes to catch my breath. The slits in my throat, my gills, lay flat as I transition to breathing through my nose. It is a similar feeling to humans switching from breathing through their nose to only breathing through their mouth. Hardly impossible, but awkward at first.

When I have calmed down enough, I look down and realize that my wounded tail has left a trail of blood that is flowing back into the water. I scoot myself painfully back further away from the water and begin to inspect the wound.

The knife had left a jagged horizontal cut at the ankle, where fin transformed into two slender and membranous flippers. I lean forward with cupped hands and lower them into the water, splashing water on the wound in an attempt to clean it some, but as soon as the gore is washed away, fresh blood continues to leak out. I have absolutely nothing to staunch the flow except for the already bloodied strip around my arm. Deciding that it is better than nothing, I untie my arm bandage and compress it tightly over my tail wound.

Leaning back against the ice structure, I wrap my arms tightly around my body. Mermaids are not impregnable to the cold. It took me years to get used to the frigid temperatures of the Antarctic. With so much blood loss, I fight against shivers.

I have no food and I am not near enough to call for any fish to bring me some. I am in danger of blood loss, hypothermia, and starvation, as well as dehydration, the most probable cause of death for a mermaid on land. With grim realization, I admit that my chance of survival is slim to none.

And yet I do not regret saving the young man, for he attempted to do the same for me. I am shocked by my adamant thoughts, realizing that I would save that man again if given the opportunity, for perhaps not all humans are evil. From years of observing them, I refuse to believe the lies and rambles of elders who told me that all humans are brutes and beasts. I have seen them interact with each other in some of the kindest and most pleasurable ways on the beaches. There may have been seeds of truth to the elders’ words, for I have just witnessed and experienced it firsthand, but the young man has fed that hope that not all humans are monsters.

Dazed and confused, I close my eyes, only to fall asleep. When I awake, my head swims and my vision is blurred. I feel ill. Dragging my limp body to the water, I plunge my head in. My gills open and I feel as if I am taking my first breath of fresh air. I listen to the sounds of the deep, only to be greeted by an even stronger call and vibration of the megalodon. It is unmistakeable now and must be in my waters.

I won’t be going home tonight or any time soon.

I extricate myself from the water and splash my tail again, but the uncomfortable feeling of dryness still lingers. A few of my scales have begun to flake and I pocket the few that have already fallen off. I don’t know how long I can stay here like this.

Darkness has settled over the land, and yet there is still light. They are the southern lights, Aurora australis. The lights are my dearest friends. They never cease to steal my breath from me. Hues of purple, green, and gold dance across the sky. Despite my present circumstances, I am mesmerized by the heavenly show and sink back into a recumbent position for a better view. I imagine myself dancing in the sky with the lights. If I die this day it is very possible that I will be granted my wish. This thought steals my fear of death and I find myself welcoming the creeping feeling of oblivion that beckons from within me. My life was not utterly miserable, but it was far from enjoyable. If there was more waiting on the other side of this life… I could only hope that it would be as beautiful as the heavens above me.

The crunching sound of snow and ice underfoot reaches my ears and I snap to attention. I reach blindly for my spear, only to find that it is no longer there, remembering too late that I had taken it off after defeating the serpent and returning home to bandage my arm.

A familiar voice speaks out, but I do not let my guard down. A shadow emerges from behind the ice and moves slowly towards me, arms raised in a submissive position, palms out.

“Peace,” he speaks. The meaning is understood for the word is similar to my own term. He comes in peace and he comes alone. I allow him to crouch a few paces away from me. His eyes travel down to my tail and I bare my teeth. His eyes snap back to mine. Unable to hold my stare, he looks up at the lights and speaks softly… in reverence it would seem. The lights have the same effect on him as they do on me. Ever so slightly, I feel my resolve weakening.

He looks back down to me and reaches into the pocket of his large coat. I tense, but he holds up his other hand with his palm out again. “Wait,” he speaks, and slowly reveals a roll of white material in his hand.

He points once to the material and then towards my tail. He means to bandage me, but I shake my head. I point from the material to the water, then shake my head again. The material would deteriorate in the water. Besides, nothing could mask the smell of fresh blood from a megalodon.

He speaks two words, neither of which I understand. He points to the water and says again, “Water.” I nod in understandment. “Hydra,” I say, giving him my word for it.

“No... anti,” he speaks, giving me synonyms for the second word. “Anti water,” he says, motioning towards the material. Water repellant? Is that even possible?

He slowly inches closer. “May I?” he asks. I glean the meaning more so from his eyes than from his words. Unsure, he waits patiently.

At last coming to the decision that I will most likely die anyways, I lift my tail gently and lay it down closer to him. After removing his gloves, he gingerly removes the bloodied rag and sets it aside, far from the water’s edge. Placing one pale, smooth hand under my tail, he lifts it high enough to position the roll underneath it and begins to wrap around the injury. He envelopes it snugly and layers it multiple times.

Once he ties it off and sits back, I lean forward to feel the material. It is a strange feeling, but I smile, knowing that it will hold once I’m back in the water.

I look back up at him with less hostility in my eyes, for it is replaced with curiosity. Confusion alights on his own features.

He points to his eyes and speaks, “Eyes. Blue.” I assume the first word is the name of the object and the second word means the color. He then points to mine and asks, “Green? Brown?” I realize then that he is referring to my second layer. I lower the underwater layer that protects my eyes, causing my eyes to appear brown. Then I raise them then to reveal my true sea green eyes. He watches with fascination and smiles at his discovery.

Next, he points to himself. “Gale.” I assume it is his name. He waits in anticipation for me to disclose my name.

Placing a finger on my chest, I say, “Antarctica,” but he shakes his head.

“No, no, no,” he says. I do not understand. Pointing to himself again, he says, “Gale Waters, from America.” I recognize the second word as a location. It is a land bordering the Atlantic ocean. Esmerelda had told me about it. He wishes for me to give my name, not the name of the place I reside in, but he does not understand that it is also my name.

I am about to repeat to him my first word, but decide instead to give him my first name, the name my mother had given me before I was sent to govern these waters. “Neri.”

He smiles and whispers my name to himself. As he turns his face back up to the auroras, I study him silently. He is young, but his youth is seen mostly in his face since the rest of his body is covered in thick clothing. He wears large boots which mask the size of his feet. Dark colored pants cover his long legs and a dense coat covers his torso. I observe that he is tall and somewhat muscular, judging by the tendons seen in his hands before he covers them again. Other than that, it is hard to tell what is hiding under all of those layers. A hat covers his head and ears, but a few strands of curly red hair peek out. His face is the one part of him not completely covered. He has vivid blue eyes, pale skin, and a smattering of light colored freckles across the bridge of his nose and cheeks.

Finishing with my study of him, I turn my head as well to the lights. We sit in silence for some time, content to simply admire the lights in each other’s presence. It is strange to be sitting with a human in mutual acknowledgment and peace. Unlike the men on the boat, Gale did not try to run his hands over my tail or wrap me up in a net. He was respectful enough to give me space and now sat with a rather silly smile on his face as he looked up at the sky.

I don’t know how long we sat together, but eventually he rose to his feet. He had to leave. I didn’t know how I was going to thank him in a way that he would understand. This was the second time he had saved my life now and I was indebted to him. Nervously, I search myself for something to give him.

All that I had on me was the shell and three of my scales. The latter would have to do. I reach forward and take his gloved hand in my own, placing the scales in his palm. “Thank you and remember me,” I tell him, but in my own language. He does not understand my words but my token of gratitude does not go unnoticed. He stares at the scales before gripping them and placing his fist on his heart. He smiles and says something in his own words, something that I do not understand, before removing an object from around his neck and handing it to me as well. It is a chain of some sorts, with a rock hanging on the end. A symbol is engraved in the surface of it. Upon closer examination, I learn that the symbol is a tree. I had not seen many as a child, but I could at least recognize one. A small smile alights on my features and I lay the chain around my neck, happy to have something to remember him by, the kind human who sat with me to watch the southern lights.

Smiling kindly once more, he makes his way back towards his people.

How dangerous today had been, and how amazing it had ended. How much still hung in the air, unable to be known about until the next days. Still, how peculiar a day this had been, and how wonderful I would always remember it as.